Isaac Fadoyebo was forever grateful to those strangers who had risked their lives to save his
More than 450,000 Africans served in the British army during the second world war. Among the few who wrote at length of their experience was Isaac Fadoyebo, who has died aged 86.
Born in Emure-Ile, now in Ondo state, southern Nigeria, Isaac enlisted in the Royal West African Frontier Force in January 1942. He trained as a medical orderly before being sent to Burma the following year. While moving by raft along the Kaladan valley, Isaac’s platoon was ambushed and he was severely wounded.
Although in great pain, he and another injured soldier, David Kagbo from Sierra Leone, dragged themselves into the forest. They were found by the Muslim Rohingya people, who provided food, water and medical care, and sheltered them in their village from Japanese patrols. After nine months hiding behind enemy lines, Isaac and Kagbo were rescued by Gurkha troops and eventually flown to safety.
Isaac later left the army with a disability pension and joined the civil service. He set about writing an account of his wartime adventures, which he called A Stroke of Unbelievable Luck. Forty-five years later, the BBC Africa service broadcast a series of programmes, produced by Martin Plaut, commemorating the role of African soldiers in the war. A number of listeners responded, including Isaac, who sent Plaut his 30,000-word manuscript.
The significance of his personal account was recognised immediately, not only for the description of enlistment, training and service in Asia by an African soldier, but also as a remarkable story of endurance against great odds.
I never met Isaac but corresponded with him after I read his memoir, recognised its historical value and subsequently arranged for its publication by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1999.
In 2011, the broadcaster Barnaby Phillips produced a film for al-Jazeera about Isaac’s wartime experiences, entitled Burma Boy. Through tenacious research in Burma, Phillips found and filmed the children of the family who had given shelter to Isaac. Burma Boy was screened as part of the recent Film Africa 2012 festival in London. Isaac died the following day.
He was a gentle and gracious man, humorous, forgiving, and forever grateful to those strangers who had risked their lives to save his.
Isaac, who married on his return from Burma, had several children.
Al Jazeera Correspondent: The Burma Boy Film.